Whos afraid of Virginia Woolf is set in a small New England College.Its single set, a womb-like living room,stands as an image of a refusal of life by those who enact their fears and illusions within it (C.W.E.Bigsby A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama 264).
One of the most important characteristics of the play is the world George and Martha invented for themselves. This world is seen by the audience and their guests, Honey and Nick. This world consists of the collection of George and Martha's imagination to remake reality "by subordinating illusion to truth" a power which aims to face human presence without "life-lies" (Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 67).
There is an inevitable character in the imaginary world. He is the son of George and Martha. There is a mystery created by the author around him." Not until the exorcism will the audience, with Nick and Honey, realize that the son is a fiction".(Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 68). There is a clue even earlier that Martha's slip is somthing important, when George asks Honey so intensively about what has just Martha said, when she told Honey about she should have never spoke about (their invented son) (Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 68).
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When the secret of Martha's child is toldto Honey, it turns out that the illusion of the son made up which was not more than a "game playing, the lovers'fanciful procreation of a symbolic child" became a sign of a wicked and bizarre relationship (Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 68).
When Martha reveals the secret they kept for themselves for ages, George recognizes that there is only a blurry border between "an unreal terrifying make-believe world" and the private life of their. Because of "a psychotic reliance on fiction and truth" the distinctions between reality and illusion get even blurrier (Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 69).
George and Martha are a married couple enable to have children.In the beginning they found out the child as a game but at the end it became an attack to each other."But in fact the child becomes a divisive principle, claimed as an accomplice by both George and Martha" (C.W.E.Bigsby A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama 265). However, from Act 1 George's ultimate goal is to get rid of the imaginary son picture which poisons his and Martha's relationship (Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 70).
Even the occasion, to where Honey and Nick are invited, is set for is the 21th birthday of the child, which age refers to the fact that the parents have to let the child go. It means they (mostly Martha) are trapped in their own fantasy world (C.W.E.Bigsby A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama 265).
The whole play is "a slow and relentless stripping of illusion", which means that one moment the whole imaginary world of George and Martha will break down into pieces and they will be left to face the real truth without any defensive shields or fantasies to protect them "(C.W.E.Bigsby A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama 266).
As George says that he wants to get rid of the child they invented, approaching the end the audience questions if he has "lost contract with the neat distinctions between truth and illusion".Martha even accuses him that he is not able to decide if Nick is a â€žstud" or a â€žhouseboy" (Ruth Meyer Language Truth and Illusion in Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf 60). This occurs in the novel as "GEORGE:Truth or illusion.Who knows the difference,eh,toots?Eh? (Edward Albee Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? 119)
In the drama "the distinction between truth and illusion is not readily perceived".If what the character says is accepted by the audience to be true and the contradictory elements are not taken into consideration then the difference between truth and illusion disappears (Ruth Meyer Language Truth and Illusion in Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf 60). The situation is the same with the story of a friend of George. Martha has second thoughts that maybe the story, he told, is the story of himself not only a friend's. There is a clue that the method of the murder in case of the friend and in case of their son is similar and the only common point is George.It occurs int he drama as: "MARTHA: Murderer.Murâ€¦derâ€¦er (Edward Albee Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? 84).
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"Truth and illusion is indeed a major theme of the play" (Ruth Meyer Language: Truth and Illusion in Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf 60). First of all, the notion of truth and then the notion of illusion should be identified. "'Truth' is generally considered a verifiable fact, 'illusion' a false mental image" novel (Ruth Meyer Language Truth and Illusion in Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf 61). In the play these two are present without any borders, "there is a constant interpenetration of truth and illusion".Language can resolve these ambiquities but facial expressions and stances can also help to recognize what facts are true and which are closer the an invented fantasy world.There are countless hints in the situations mentioned: for instance if George really was present at the death of her mother and father (Ruth Meyer Language Truth and Illusion in Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf 61).
The illusion occurs in the play in the form of dreams.If we call these illusions pipe dreams it can be said that: "have your pipe dreams if you want to but realize you are kidding yourself" .(Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 67). This is absolutely valid if we consider George and Martha's child's 'life'.George kills him at the end of the play to get rid of one reality and this result in a positive shift in the relationship because the child weakened it for years and was the reason for several fighst between the spouses.
Martha and George find out throughout the 3 acts that their son is not keeping them alive but killing them and poisons their relationship.It took 20 years time for them to recognise this and forcing them to kill this myth invented only by themselves, which was only a game in the beginning but turned out to be not so much fun (Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 67-68).
At the end of act 3 it turns out that there is hope for George and Matha's marriage because they arrived to the point that they are able to give up their illusions and rebuild their relationship which means there is hope for the next generation.In this case it means Honey and Nick, who can be seen as the latter version of George and Martha (C.W.E.Bigsby A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama 267).
The reason for the intentions of the characters to make up a fantasy world, to exit the real truth is that they want to forget about reality and intent to hide from it.The reason for George and for Martha also worth mentioning.Martha's actions are in a way more understandable than of George's. She was abandoned by her mother and raised by her dad, who doesn't take care of her, even thought she looked up to him.Her only want was to find a loving husband and build a loving family. "But reality subverts her romantic heroic idealâ€¦.frustrated ambitions and diminished hopes" (Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 72).
The Bergin story in the play questions a "broader truth/illusion motif of the drama".If we accept Martha's clues that he really was present at the death of his parents, we have to admit that Bergin is a persona for George.It means that George is responsible for the death of his dad and mum.It is even more strengthened by the verbal tools George uses in the early evening.It is said int he novel as "MARTHA: No,Sir,this isn't a novel at allâ€¦this is the truthâ€¦this really happened â€¦TO ME! GEORGE:I'LL KILL YOU!" (Edward Albee Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? 83) From this reaction it can be seen that George is as vulnerable and confused as her wife, that is the reason for them hiding in a fantasy world with their child illusion (Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 76). Both of them have problems accepting the reality over the fantasy world but George is the one wh tries to help "Martha restore psychic balance" (Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 77) for instance by killing the illusion of the made up son and with this move deleting one reality. George "create(s) a new reality to take its place and through mapping out for Nick and Honey the way to redirect their lives, achieves for Martha and himself a radical redirection of their own" (Thomas P.Adler Albee's Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf ?:A Long night's journey into a day 67).
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As they assimilate to the new college, Honey and Nick begins to find out the own lies about their perfect life or at least trying to show as if they life would be perfect.They seem to be a "well meaning but weak couple" (Matthew C. Roudané Understanding Edward Albee 78).
"Nick and Honey, the young couple, who witnesses the collapse of their hosts' fantasies, are themselves a warning of the next stage of decline" (C.W.E.Bigsby A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama 267). Honey is terrified to be a mother and is so afraid of the real. With Nick, she also starts to sparkle their lies towards the world (C.W.E.Bigsby A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama 265).
The three games played throughout the night ("Hump the Hostess","Get the Guests", "Bringing up Baby") are not only to entertain the guests but they have significant role during the actions. They are to resolve the lies governing George and Martha's and Nick and Honey's relationships. The games and fights are resulted from love which George and his wife feel for each other, which they lose at one point but gain back in act 3.
The play can be seen as an attack to another sex. Throughout language, George and Martha tease each other. George often calls his wife a "spoiled, dirty-minded, liquor-ridden" woman and Martha describes her husband as someone lacking professional skills.This is seen in the drama as "MARTHA: he can't make anything out of himself, somebody without the guts to make anybody proud of himâ€¦" (Edward Albee Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf 57).
"Martha and George inhabit a city of words" (C.W.E.Bigsby A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama 267). They transform their illusions into a concrete language.They find out the whole life story of the imaginary child, they even make up language games as a substitution for the real facts.For them to speak is to lie, and then there is a risk of that this whole made-up language system collapses and then they left in silence, from which they are afraid the most because there they have to facet he lies they made to hide from the real truth (C.W.E.Bigsby A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama 267-268).
The dialogues make it clear that there is ambiquity between truth and illusion.Some critics say this is the "message" of the play.We can get to know the characters throughout their way of talking for instance George's use of cliches refers to the protection of his realy identity, him wearing masks to hide his true feelings (Ruth Meyer Language Truth and Illusion in Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf 61).
"Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a slow retreat from language- a suggestion that truth is pre-linguistic, that speech is designed less to communicate then to give access to power or to articulate the need to deceive" (C.W.E.Bigsby A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama 268).
At the end of the play the language is simplified to monosyllabic questions and answers.Language is not a border between reality and illusion anymore.The real world and the fantasy world has gone too far from each other.George and Martha are left without their worlds and two realities.There is only him and her." Where once they had used the fantasy child as a means to accuse one another, now they accept their joint failure: "NICK:You couldn't haveâ€¦any? GEORGE:We couldn't. MARTHA:We couldn't."(Edward Albee Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? 138)
If you see only the surface of the play, it seems as if Albee "dramatizes the impasses that arise as marriage partners communicate. In the earlier play, George and Martha believe in marriage, and moment by moment with matchless and admirable struggle they communicate candidly to preserve their union" (Jeane Luere Terror and Violence in Edward Albee From Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Marriage Play 51).
Taking into consideration the above mentioned facts, it can be concluded that the play is int he border of illusion and reality (real world). To achive this this effect, the appearance of games and the special characteristics of language are worth mentioning.